We’re down to the Top 6 on “American Idol” and since the shows aren’t getting any shorter, that means we’re looking at a double-performance night. And with each singing going twice, we also have a pair of dueling themes.
We have that old “Idol” standby with Songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David — I didn’t have enough characters to get “Hal David” in this headline, but he’s important, too — and then we have the more ambiguous Songs I Wish I’d Written.
Wouldn’t it have been cool if “Idol” had turned that second theme sideways and let any contestant with writing chops do a song they actually had written? Who amongst us wouldn’t want to watch a full performance of Angie Miller’s original? And I hear Janelle writes, too. Bring it on! Oh well.
On to the recap. Share your thoughts below…
8:02 p.m. ET. I’ll miss Burnell Taylor. Not a *ton*. But I’ll miss him, especially the two times Lazaro Arbos performs tonight…
8:03 p.m. Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey aren’t matching tonight.
8:04 p.m. Sir Anthony Hopkins in the house? Up first tonight…
Singer: ANGIE MILLER
Song: “Anyone Who Had a Heart”
My Take: Angie and her friend Lydia do embarrassing videos on YouTube and she’s so darned embarrassed that she’s telling us all about it. This ought to be a comeback night for Angie. The Bacharach-David catalogue has her in fine ultra-dramatic form and the other half of the bill should let her showcase her singer-songwriter side. She looks terrific and sounds in fine voice. I like this much more than her Paramore karaoke last week or anything she’s done for a while, in fact. *However*. Yup. I’ve got a “however.” However, Burt Bacharach songs, in addition to being theatrical, can also be lounge-y, they can be too smooth. And Angie’s tendency is already to be too smooth. She sands the rough edges off of whatever she does and when there’s a song that has no edges a certain sameness ensues, so if you like what Angie’s doing after 10 seconds, you’ll either love the whole performance or you’ll be bored by the end, but you shouldn’t expect the dynamic to change. I fell into the latter category. I started typing enthusiastically when she started typing and while I never moved into negative terrain, I plateaued.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith thinks Angie looks great, but he asks that she doesn’t rely only on her voice. Keith wanted to feel a bit more passion and he worries that the song came too easy for her. That’s what I’m talking about. Nicki agrees with Keith, adding that it felt “old-fashioned.” Well, duh. Who’s not going to sound old-fashioned in this first round? Randy suggests that Angie needs to find the passion in the lyrics and believe that she wrote the song. Mariah talks for a while about her responsibilities as a judge and finally warns Angie that she may be over-pronouncing the lyrics, or something. And, again, Mariah says Angie was better on her own song.
Song: “I Say A Little Prayer For You”
My Take: Amber likes sucking on frozen shrimp. Well. OK. I’m not quite sure Amber knows what she’s singing about here, but she sounds pretty good doing it and, once again, she looks spectacular. You can tell that the “Idol” stylists are having a great time with Amber. They can pretty much put her in anything. I don’t know if it’s a great pure-vocal performance — she gets slightly lost in the brass-heavy arrangement a couple times — but it establishes a very clear ’70s vibe. Amber is soaking up the spotlight, strutting around in a pantsuit, throwing in big runs left and right, just for fun. She smiles and flirts with the camera and just gives an enjoyable and dynamic overall performance.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “What in the hell just happened right now?” Nicki says, enthusiastically. “You are unbelievable, Amber,” Nicki says, adding that Amber is now her absolutely favorite, at least until Kree performs. “The competition just started tonight,” Randy cheers. Guess what? Amber is trying to win. Mariah praises Amber for taking a chance and trying to be herself, grading it “A+” and “Top of the world.” Keith praises her for not overperforming, comparing her to the summer breeze.
Singer: LAZARO ARBOS
Song: “Close To You”
My Take: Lazaro loves hunting. He loves hunting ducks. I’m so confused. If you’ve ever had the burning question, “How could somebody make ‘Close To You’ even cornier than it already inherently is?” Here’s your answer. This is a cruise ship performance. And it’s not a good cruise ship performance. It’s a “Not only are the toilets broken, but THIS is the only on-ship entertainment” cruise ship performance. There’s a space in the middle when Lazaro very clearly has no clue what key he’s singing in. At that point, the performance goes from “sleepy” to “embarrassing.” And then it goes from “embarrassing” to “gag audition bad.” Yeah. That was astoundingly weak. I hope somebody from the Lazaro Fan club shows up to defend this particular performance. Again, don’t defend Lazaro as a heroic, inspiration guy. He’s 100 percent that. But wow. That was bad.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Randy is speechless. “All I can say is no, no, no, no. Dude, that was horrible,” Randy finally says, but only after praising Lazaro’s humanity. He calls it Lazaro’s worst performance. Mariah says she’s been accused of being too nice and apparently she’s been getting memos from The Powers That Be. Mariah very accurately calls Lazaro on his key cluelessness. Lazaro, sweating in the spotlight, looks pained, as he would be. Mariah just goes on and on and she’s being substantive, but what’s the point? Keith says Lazaro has millions of fans. Keith has more to say about the key change. Nicki starts looking at her watch. “Let’s just say I already gave my comment,” Nicki tells Ryan in a moment of awesomeness.
8:41 p.m. Wait. We’ve had *three* performances in 40 minutes?
Singer: KREE HARRISON
Song: “What The World Needs Now”
My Take: Kree starts out without accompaniment. Boy, she’s good. The lovable cheesiness of the Bacharach/David songbook is a bit of a problem, as Lazaro and Angie both proved, but listening to good singers do Bacharach/David is a total pleasure. It’s a mostly straight-forward arrangement, but there are just enough little Kree flourishes that it’s distinctive and impressive. That’s a nice bounce-back after the previous performance. I might be inclined to over-praise it coming after Lazaro, so I don’t want to do that. I’m still not sure Kree is nailing the top notes. I think she’s holding back, perhaps due to the nerve thing. But otherwise? This is great.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Somebody needs to cut Mariah off. She’s being substantive, but we don’t have time for this. Yes. I get it. Kree is being Kree. Keith feels Kree’s humanity and compassion. “Your voice is so sweet and humble and endearing,” Nicki says, but she claims it’s also “hella cocky.” Nicki predicts a big country career for Kree. “I love that you came after the last performer,” Randy says. Ouch. I get Randy’s frustration with Lazaro, but you get the feeling he’d trade in the Judges’ Save for the Judges’ Humane Assassination.
8:48 p.m. Ah. That’s how we’re going to do it. Double-performance block! On to…
Singer: JANELLE ARTHUR
Song: “I’ll Never Fall In Love”
My Take: This is an amusingly country-tinted arrangement for Janelle. At times it’s unrecognizable from the original. Mostly that’s an OK thing — Janelle likes mixing it up on themes and I appreciate that — though once or twice there are notes that Janelle hits really sharp. I like when she’s flirting with Keith. This is a much better use of the stage than a couple times we’ve seen her get out of breath, but I’m not thinking this is going to stand out as one of Janelle’s more memorable performances.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith feels like we see different sides of Janelle each week. “I try to not be a one-trick pony,” Janelle says. Nicki thought this performance was “really boring,” but she could still be a big commercial success. Randy also was a bit bored and he wants more Janelle, more “good nice cookies.” Mariah wanted more “effervescence” from Janelle.
Singer: CANDICE GLOVER
Song: “Don’t Make Me Over”
My Take: We’ve seen a harder-rocking side of Candice for several weeks in a row now, but this Dionne Warwick favorite is a good showcase for Candice as a pure vocalist. This is unquestionably the stand-out performance of this largely lackluster first round. Frankly, Candice kinda makes everybody else look bad. And she makes it look easy — and not the sleepy Angie version of easy. It starts simple and Candice adds flavor and flourish as she goes along, building to a big, powerful crescendo. The judges stand for her.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Nicki didn’t think Candice sounded old-fashioned. “This is what you were born to do,” Nicki tells her. “This is what the show is all about,” Randy says, calling it the best vocal of the night and one of her best ever. Mariah felt we saw another side of who Candice is. “You set the bar really high,” Keith says. Then Keith lowers the bar by saying Candice is in his Top 3 for tonight.
Singer: ANGIE MILLER
Song: “Love Came Down”
My Take: Angie’s right. I have no clue what this song is. But she’s on the piano, so… Bring it on home, Angie. Hmmm… How about this as a pitch for Angie: She makes me love songs I’ve never heard before, but she somehow makes me like the songs I already know less. I’m sure that if I heard this song on the radio, I’d change the channel. But sitting in a fog bank on her white Yamaha, Angie is more convincing on this song than she’s been on anything since that Colton Dixon song that I also didn’t know. She makes me think I know and want to know songs that I’d never stumble upon under any other circumstances. So yes. Angie + Piano + Song I Don’t Know = Win. Every time.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: The judges stand for Angie. “You tapped into the emotion. Just remember that every time,” Randy says. Mariah says that when Angie does the piano, she never loses. That’s kinda what I said! Keith is pleased. “This is the only time when you are going to be remembered at the top of the pack,” Nicki tells Angie, making it clear that Angie shouldn’t do the sexy-dancy thing. “This was Angie,” Nicki says. Nicki tells her that before this performance, she’d been usurped by Kree, Amber and Candice. That was some tough-talking from Nicki, but I can’t say that she’s wrong.
Singer: AMBER HOLCOMB
Song: “Love on Top”
My Take: Somebody tore the legs off of Amber’s hole-y jeans from last week and now they’re shorts! Way to go, “American Idol.” It’s cool that Amber decided to go a little more up-tempo with her song choice. On the other hand, you don’t want people comparing you to Beyonce when it comes to this particular song and Amber just doesn’t have nearly the sass to pull this performance off. She is, in fact, somewhat sacrificing rhythm and stagecraft for over-singing and the whole performance is just a bit unfulfilled to me. She had more pep and more spunk on her first performance, frankly. This seems like Amber’s a bit in her own head, trying to be Beyonce and not getting it done.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Mariah didn’t think it was Amber’s best vocal. Keith thought it was beautiful and a natural fit. “You have arrived in every sense of the word,” Nicki says, warning Beyonce that she needs to watch out. “Yes, yes, yes. This girl is in it to win it,” Randy says.
Singer: LAZARO ARBOS
My Take: Even “New Girl” made a job last night with a character wondering why America has never embraced Robbie Williams. This, I fear, is why. Because “Angels” is a great song. Just a terrific song. And if you do it without Robbie’s voice, it sounds like a generic, blobby ballad. And this cutdown of the song gives Lazaro only one chorus and a slow, sluggish build. David Archuleta didn’t do a *great* version of “Angels” on “Idol,” but it was far better than this and not just because David Archuleta is much better than Lazaro. It was just a better showcase arrangement of the song. This doesn’t show Lazaro can do much of anything, though I guess we should be thanking him for minimizing damage. This was better than the first performance, but anything would have been.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith points out that the girls are “crazy good” and then says very little about Lazaro. Nicki’s sick of Lazaro and passes. “Keith is right. The girls are just so crazy-good,” Randy says. “This was a better range for you,” Mariah says. “Slightly better,” Randy says.
Singer: KREE HARRISON
Song: “Help Me Make it Through The Night”
My Take: Much respect for an “Idol” singer giving love to Kris Kristofferson. And much respect to Kree for going with a stripped-down arrangement for the second straight song. Kree’s in a killer slot in this show. She gets to look better compared to Lazaro, but she also gets to make Janelle look just a little bit bad. This performance is completely believable and lived-in and it’s also blissfully free of those big upper-register notes that Kree’s been missing the past couple weeks. This is nourishing, yearning comfort food.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “You’re just at the head of the class,” Nicki says, praising Kree for making her believe the lyrics, at the expense of poor Janelle. “Kudos to you, Kree,” Randy says, calling Kree “a natural, natural singer.” “To hear you sing it, that’s how the song should be sung,” Mariah says. “That was a buckle-polisher right there,” Keith says, predicting a Grand Ole Opry future for Kree.
Singer: JANELLE ARTHUR
Song: “The Dance”
My Take: Thank you, Janelle, for explaining that this song isn’t about a literal dance, so much as “the dance of life.” This is a good bounce-back for Janelle after her so-so opening performance. It’s decent, right-down-the-middle Country anthem-singing. The vocal was much better, though it wasn’t all that lively as a performance. I fear that Janelle has put herself in position to be the Odd Woman Out if Lazaro’s fans prove indefatigable. She’d get the Save, but don’t be even SLIGHTLY surprised if that’s the way the voting goes.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “I didn’t think this was your best performance ever, but I believed your story,” Randy says. Mariah had never heard the song before, but she appreciated the simplicity of the performance. Kudos to Keith Urban for giving a shout-out to Tony Arata, who actually wrote the song. Nicki felt that Janelle stepped it up, but she isn’t sure this was enough for Janelle to get a leg-up on the other girls.
Singer: CANDICE GLOVER
Song: “Love Song”
My Take: It’s The Cure-by-way-of-Adele for Candice. And from the VERY first note, it’s clear that this is a knockout triumph for Candice. The Girls have been so dominant this season and they’ve swapped back and forth in the lead position. Angie was ahead for a while. Kree has had breakout weeks. Amber always seems to be lurking. For the purposes of tonight however, it isn’t even close. This is the best vocal of the season. And it may be the best performance for a couple seasons. Simple as that. Nothing else to say.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: The judges stand. Mariah comes on stage and throws something at Candice. I don’t remember the last time we let audience applause continue for this long. “One of the greatest performances in the history, 12 years, of ‘American Idol,'” Randy says. Candice is overwhelmed.
9:56 p.m. Tonight’s best: Candice.
9:56 p.m. Tonight’s worst: Lazaro.
9:56 p.m. That was a pretty cut-and-dry night, eh? Angie’s piano performance and Kree’s two performances are probably reasonable candidates for second place. And I’d expect Janelle to be in jeopardy with Lazaro.